I had the pleasure of being involved with a seminar on �Ethics in cyberspace � how to do bloggin� right” cosponsored by The Society of Professional Journalists and the Denver Press Club. Bloggers in attendance include Rebecca Blood, Amy Gahran, David Thomas, Chris Cobler from the Greeley Tribune and my pal Gil Asakawa from the Denver Post. The discussion was interesting and engaging, but what most struck me was the distinction that journalists made between bloggers and journalists.
Specifically, us bloggers are writing opinion pieces, basically, subjective op-ed type of works, while journalists are trained professionals and one of the distinct differentiators is that real journalists do fact checking. Specifically, Rebecca shared her belief that bloggers don’t want to be journalists because journalists need verifiable facts and reproducible results. Note: I originally had the last seven words in quotes, erroneously indicating that it was a directly quote from Rebecca. Read the comments to see how two incorrectly used punctuation marks can set off a firestorm of discussion and debate.
Which is why the last two days of reporting in our local Scripps paper, The Daily Camera, have been so darn amusing…
Front page story in the Daily Camera, 29 April, 2005: Middle School bans hugs: Centennial students not keen about new rule on ‘PDAs’ in which reporter Brittany Anas writes:
Centennial Assistant Principal Becky Escamilla said that some concerned sixth-grade teachers asked the administration to spell out policies surrounding “PDAs” � jargon for public displays of affection.
“There was some sixth-grade romance going on,” she said. Escamilla said the school is not anti-hug. “We just want our kids to be appropriate at school and focus on academics,” she said.
No students were punished on Thursday for hugging at school, Escamilla said. It is unclear what the punishments for public displays of affection will be.
Ellen Miller-Brown, the Boulder Valley School District’s middle-level director, said most schools have rules about showing affection. “At academic institutions, principals do their very best to keep students focused on school,” she said.”
That was Thursday. Friday, 30 April 2005, front page news in the Daily Camera, reported by the same Brittany Anas: Centennial Letter – Hug Ban a Rumor: Note says principal trying to address tardiness issue. But it’s the first sentence in this follow-on story that is most entertaining in light of the “journalists check facts” argument:
“We do not have a no hugging rule or policy,” the letter says.
The story continues, and I’ll get to that in a second, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with a story that’s spread by children, picked up by an alert reporter, then reported as fact in the community newspaper of record. That’s not fact checking, that’s not professional journalism at all, in my opinion. It’s rumor-mongering.
The story continues…
I read this as backpedaling from the newspaper. They reflected on the actual quote from the Assistant Principal and realized that there was a second possible interpretation, that she’d talked with students about inappropriate displays of affection, but, um, err, never actually stated that the school had instituted any new ban, rule or requirement that students change their behavior. If anything, it’s quite likely that there’s already a rule on the books regarding student decorum, but that’s not news, is it?
What’s most fascinating to me is that there’s no mea culpa on the part of either the reporter or the newspaper. But it’s clear that they got it wrong. Perhaps they fact checked — as all good journalists do, regardless of medium of publication — but their fact checking process failed to catch the rather significant nuance between an administrator talking to students about the inappropriateness of public displays of affection during school hours and an actual new rule instituted by the school district.
I may be one person working with my own journalistic rules, but if I hear about something unusual or extraordinary, I check my facts and ensure that I’m getting the story right. And if I do mess up, I admit it and post a correction.
What would be really nice would be if Brittany Anas, City Editor Kevin Kaufman, Editor Susan Deans or Daily Camera Publisher Greg Anderson can explain to those of us in the blog world what broke down in the newsroom for this sequence of events to occur? And then perhaps one of these journalists can reiterate how bloggers are the ones that play fast and loose with the news?